NHS Scotland coping well with winter pressures, Neil confirms

Scotland’s Health Secretary, Alex Neil, has confirmed that the NHS is coping “much better” with winter pressures than it did last year.

There has been a marked decline in the amount of time that patients spent in accident and emergency (A&E) departments in hospitals across Scotland, following a £50 million investment to improve emergency care.

In the final month of 2012, NHS figures showed that 323 patients in Scotland were forced to spend 12 hours or more waiting in an A&E department. In contrast, just 42 patients had to wait the same length of time in December 2013, representing a fall of 87 per cent.

The figures also showed a 69 per cent decline in the number of patients who had to spend over eight hours in one of Scotland’s A&E departments, with numbers falling from 1,555 to 480 between December 2012 and December 2013.

Mr Neil confirmed that, in December of last year, the vast majority – 93.5 per cent – of patients were seen and treated at A&E departments within the target time of four hours. Other positives for Scotland’s NHS was the number of wards closed due to winter norovirus outbreaks, which sat at just two as of last week, compared to 11 a year ago.

“Last year we saw increased pressures on our hospitals in the peak of winter, including an early start to the norovirus season, an increase in respiratory illnesses, and a rise in the number of people attending A&E in the peak of winter”, Mr Neil told the BBC.

“Following last winter, we recognised that improvements needed to be made, and that is why we introduced our three-year £50 million emergency care action plan, to help improve emergency care across Scotland”, he added. A total of £9 million has already been given to health boards across Scotland in order to support winter planning.

However, despite the positive signs, Mr Neil warned against complacency, saying that the sector still needed to be carefully managed to ensure the added challenges that winter brings were met.

One of the changes made to help relieve winter pressures has been the establishment of a unit aimed at improving care for elderly patients by NHS Forth Valley.

The unit assists such patients to remain in their own homes. The board also has extra beds at Stirling Community Hospital, and is carrying out work in conjunction with the local council in order to lower the time that patients spend in hospital unnecessarily.